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McEachin's Moment?

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With the 2006 elections dead and gone, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the final tallies may well be a man found nowhere on the November ballot. While bloggers and media types are enthralled with the latest installment of "Mr. Webb Goes to Washington" or the gnashing of teeth among Virginia Republicans as they regroup, the 2007 elections loom. On that front, several story lines are developing, including the future of Richmond-area House of Delegates member A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico).

Amid the backdrop of Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III's defection to George Allen's corner and the curious tale of African-American ministers who joined him, McEachin, by demonstrating a high degree of loyalty to his party's candidate, actually may be in the best position to take advantage of the prevailing political winds.

Before the 2006 election, McEachin had an interesting image in Democratic Party circles. Though his ideological and policy positions were well within the Democratic mainstream, some of his electoral moves as he moved up the political food chain ruffled feathers. Generally speaking, Virginia Democrats have been cautious about waging hearty primary battles, preferring consensus. In 1995, McEachin pushed the envelope a bit by challenging and defeating a leading legislator to earn the party's nomination for a House of Delegates seat. He waged and won an aggressive battle for the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2001, and he raised a few more eyebrows when he successfully reclaimed his old House seat last year. In the contact sport of politics, McEachin has been a willing competitor.

Though it may seem unfamiliar to Virginia's chattering classes, McEachin's actions are in line with the emerging paradigm of younger African-American Democratic politicians being more aggressive and less tradition-bound than their predecessors. In Virginia, McEachin has ridden the same wave that brought bright stars like Barack Obama; Harold Ford Jr.; and Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty to the forefront in their respective arenas.

In the Democratic primary, McEachin energetically threw his support to Jim Webb, once concerns over Webb's affirmative-action writings were relieved, sensing that Democrats had a unique opportunity. He says in an e-mail that he "believed it was very important that the Democratic Party put forth the strongest challenger to George Allen. Clearly, the public was and is disenchanted with the policies of the administration in Washington, and I believed this was an opportunity to make a change, for Democrats to strongly challenge George Allen and the Bush Administration."

While other members of the Legislative Black Caucus backed Webb's primary opponent or remained neutral, McEachin stepped out on a limb to help Webb early and often. As they stood side by side at events, the large-framed, eloquent African-American attorney and rock-jawed white ex-Marine cast an intriguing visual image, one that was not lost on observers. While McEachin's actions may not have moved hordes of black voters to Webb during the primary season, his move sent signals to black and white Democrats alike that post-primary, Webb would not be easily pigeonholed on racial issues. It was a prescient move.

Despite maintaining a full-time law practice and his legislative obligations, as the general election swung into gear, McEachin served as a surrogate for Webb at events, introduced the neophyte candidate to key political players and helped craft outreach to the black community. The delegate also loaned his time, energy and name to the Commonwealth Coalition's bid to defeat the marriage amendment, after expressing "serious regret" for having voted for the measure in the previous General Assembly sessions. Again, he threw himself into this role, providing leadership on the Coalition's efforts to reach out to African-American ministers and congregations about the potential ramifications of the amendment on their families and communities. A Virginia Union University divinity school student, McEachin echoes similar sentiments to those expressed by his party's leader, saying in his e-mail, "Like Governor Tim Kaine, whom I greatly admire, I believe my faith informs my choices."

With Webb now headed to Washington, McEachin has become a close adviser to the senator-elect, serving on the new senator's transition team. The elephant in the room surrounds what lies ahead for 2007. McEachin lives in the district represented by state Sen. Benjamin Lambert, whose endorsement of George Allen angered many loyal Democrats. "I was shocked and dismayed by Bennie Lambert's actions," McEachin says. "I know that George Allen has actively opposed all of the principles and values we Democrats hold." As for whether he will challenge Lambert, he says, "Many people, in the district, in the Richmond metropolitan area and throughout the Commonwealth have approached me about running. I am humbled by their confidence in me and their offers of help and support."

McEachin basically set aside his own campaign activities, fundraising included, to help elect Webb to the Senate. With Gov. Kaine headlining a December fundraiser to help with McEachin's 2007 General Assembly race, the gentleman from Henrico seems entitled to reap some rewards for his loyal service. As a rising voice inside his party, one who gave so that Democrats might get, it would be fitting for McEachin to get more than a little help from his friends no matter what General Assembly chamber he seeks membership in. Having been declared a "winner" by The Washington Post and having recently been given space to share his post-election thoughts by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, if he can successfully cash in some of his newfound political capital, McEachin may emerge as Virginia's next African-American power player of note. Lord knows he has earned it. S

Conaway B. Haskins III is a writer and Democratic activist who lives in Chesterfield County and publishes the blogwww.southofthejames.com.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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